With his crowning as the NBA's executive of the year for 2012, Larry Bird may have sealed his case as the basketballs most successful and influential individual in the history of the sport. Bird is without question one of the greatest players in the history of the league, but it is what he has done off the court that may have pushed him above all. Let's take a look at Bird's case as basketballs most successful and influential individual.
Larry Bird is a three time champion, a three time MVP, a twelve time all star, two time Finals MVP,nine time All-NBA first teamer, Rookie of the Year, and a three time three point shootout champion among other decorations as a player. He has one of the most complete resumes as a player in league history. Those you can compare that resume to are few and far between. The only individuals would be Magic, Jordan, Kareem, and Russell. Wilt never won the titles, nor did Jerry West or Oscar Robertson; thus why it is safe to say that Larry Bird is among the top five greatest players in NBA history. Where you place Bird is an entirely different argument for a different article but there is no question that Bird belongs in the group.
What may set Bird above the rest is what he has been able to do off the court. Of the previously mentioned group, only Jordan and Russell dipped their toes into the water that is management in basketball whether it be coaching or as an executive. Russell would take over the Celtics in 1966 as the player-coach until 1969, and would later coach the Supersonics in the 1970s while Michael Jordan went on to take over the newly founded Washington Wizards and now currently serves as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. We are all well aware of Jordan's shortcomings as an executive for both teams he managed, but Russell did enjoy a bit of success off the court.
For the Celtics, Russell would lead the team to championships in two seasons before announcing his retirement. Russell would later join the Seattle Supersonics in the 1970s and was able to turn the organization around into a playoff contender on numerous occasions, no small feat considering the mess he took over originally. Though his brief stint in Sacramento was a disaster, Russell did enjoy a bit of success off the court.
But is is Bird that stands above all else on this list thanks to his off court achievements. Taking over the Pacers in 1997-98, Bird was able to lead the Pacers to a 58-24 record, good enough to earn the 1998 Coach of the Year award. In his three seasons as a coach, Bird would achieve a 214-147 record good for a .687 win percentage and one trip to the NBA Finals.
As an executive, Bird was able to oversee a Pacers team looking to rebuild after losing Reggie Miller. The process took longer than anyone expected, but with the success the Pacers have seen over the past two seasons, it is safe to say the project is nearing completion. Bird quietly was able to revolutionize how teams are built in the NBA. The only way to combat the "super teams" such as the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics where the emphasis was put on three superstars leaving holes in the roster at other postions was to build a team that was deep and solid in talent from top to bottom.
Bird built the Pacers not around one or two superstars but around a team of very talented All-Star level players. Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert,Paul George, Darren Collison, David West, and Tyler Hansborough are all talented players, but will all go their entire career without getting any MVP consideration. They aren't dominant players in the sense that they could carry an organization, but together they form an impressive roster. This was Bird's master plan, and a plan that has worked well enough to earn him the 2012 NBA Executive of the Year award. It is in this award that Bird has finally set himself above all else in the discussion of most influential and successful individuals.
With the award, Bird became the first individual to win an NBA title, League MVP, Olympic Gold, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the year. Only Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and Frank Layden ever won both Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year in their career. Few players have ever won an NBA Title and League MVP while even less won an MVP, Olympic Gold and a Championship; but no other individual has earned the highest honor at every position within a organization (Coach, Player, Executive) and for that Bird is without question the sport of basketballs most influential and successful individual.
Yes, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan won more titles, Kareem made more All-Star games, Wilt scored more points, the list goes on and on, but the fact is that NO player has ever been able to find such high levels of success in all aspects of the game. Jordan struggled in the front office, Russell was never recognized as a great coach, and Kareem just never coached. Every aspect of the game that Bird has taken control of, has turned into gold. Maybe its the never ending drive to win, maybe its luck, or maybe just maybe Larry Bird is more talented than we will ever be able to comprehend.
As the Pacers start to look more and more like a legitimate championship contender, the success is overshadowing the news that Larry Bird plans to step down at seasons end as the Executive of the Indiana Pacers. Surprisingly this comes just as the team he has spent so many years building, is finally enjoying postseason success, with a very promising future for years to come. Bird, never one to bask in the limelight may feel the uncomfortable attention that will be on him with the success the Pacers will eventually enjoy, but maybe he has finally achieved everything he could possibly dream of accomplishing in the NBA?
What more could he accomplish, especially if the Pacers by chance win it all? He's won the highest individual honors at every position in the NBA, he's won multiple championships, lead a team to another championship as a coach and was able to build a perennial contender as an executive. It is that reality that solidifies Bird as the sport of basketballs most successful and influential individual in the history of the sport. Enjoy the last few weeks of Bird before he steps out of the limelight, as once he is gone, there will most certainly never be another individual like him.